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Friday, December 3, 2010

Ayn Rand's Atheism Worse Than Mine

My favorite Anglican fount of wisdom, Father Tim, reminds me indirectly that I don't have to make any excuses to my conservative neighbors about being an atheist... not as long they keep worshipping Ayn Rand:

The Economist's Good Guru Guide says, "Ayn Rand—the heroine of America's libertarian right—described her philosophy as 'the concept of man as a noble being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute'" [Gary Moore, "Ayn Rand: Goddess of the Great Recession," Christianity Today, 2010.08.27].

Sounds like nefarious secular humanism to me.

Like The Economist, most observers see Rand as a political and economic philosopher. I believe she was first and foremost an anti-Christian philosopher. She didn't understand the faith. But she knew that Moses was a lawgiver, that Christ told us to "render unto Caesar," and that Paul told us to pay taxes and to "honor and respect" government leaders (Rom. 13). So she had to get rid of Christianity in order to get rid of government.

Rand once declared, "I want to be known as the greatest champion of reason and the greatest enemy of religion." Randian evangelist Leonard Peikoff preached that "every argument for God and every attribute ascribed to him rests on a false metaphysical principle" [Moore, 2010].

Enemy of religion?! I've never declared myself that. I don't mind religion all that much, at least not when folks do it right... or when they put on good potato suppers.

Moore's article is chock full of sharp observations that make one thing clear: atheist Ayn Rand poses a greater threat to your Christian faith and moral compass (not to mention the healthy, regulated free market Adam Smith envisioned) than I ever will. Rand does not believe in any moral obligation to your fellow man. I do. So did that carpenter from Nazareth.


  1. I've always wondered how an atheist would deal with an insurance company that denies a claim on the basis that the applicable disaster constituted "an act of God."

    First, the company would have to prove that God exists.

    Second, the company would have to prove that the catastrophe in question was actually willed by that God.

    I would assume that your belief, Cory, would result in the invalidation of any such clause in an insurance contract.

    Any lawyers out there, or judges, know of any test cases here? Some must exist!

    That said, I maintain that atheism (as opposed to agnosticism) is a religion, in the sense that it's faith-based -- a firm belief that God does not exist.

    On that basis you could battle the insurance company on the grounds of discrimination against your religion!

    I also wonder, Cory: How would you define the term "God"? Even if no God exists, we ought to be able to define Him (or Her, or It), right? Just like we can define "unicorn"?

  2. Stan, you require of me a larger thinking cap.

    As a practical matter, I accept m insurers' use of the term act of God the same way I accept neighbors' use of God bless you when I sneeze. We disagree on agency but agree on the general fact of what's happening. I can agree with the insurer that the "act of God" is an unfortunate event with no human agent. Now if my coverage hinges specifically on an act being the result of a supernatural deity as opposed to a natural yet non-human cause, then I might tussle with them.

    Defining God: He's The Big Guy, right? The one in that Michaelangelo painting pointing at us? The big snap-his-fingers, make-anything-happen entity? The being I see after I die who says to me, "What the hell were you doing down there?" Or at least the entity that everyone else thinks does those things. Does that definition work?

  3. Cory, I don't believe in the sort of God you define, any more than you do -- although I call myself a Christian! I don't see a "big guy" (or "big gal" or "big thing") up there manipulating us the way Glenn Beck thinks George Soros does.

    I do believe that Jesus Christ existed, just as Augustus and Tiberius Caesar did around the same time; I believe that Jesus taught in parables, one of which requires us to imagine a human-like "father" and an evil "devil" and a "hell" comprising a "lake of fire," and all the rest.

    As for the exact mechanics of how it all works, I refrain from any attempt at defining that. I remain content to believe that the details "pass my understanding." I recoil from attempting to define "God," just as a mathematician pulls away from any rigorous definition of "point," "line," or "plane."

    Now as for the insurance issue, if an "act of God" refers to something beyond human control, then an insurance company could use its "act of God" clause to deny benefits for damage caused by hurricanes, tornadoes, hail storms, or forest fires. But we buy insurance, and the companies provide it, precisely to protect us from economic ruin on account of such events. Where do they draw the line, then? Lightning? Volcanoes? Meteorites? Is it not quite ridiculous to suppose that God hurls meteorites at the earth but does not bother to spawn tornadoes, leaving them up to the whims of "Old Gray Ma"?

    As you can see, I'm trying to get at the notion that the very phrase "act of God" in an insurance contract is absurd on its face. Now someone will ask, "What about the statement 'In God we trust' on our currency? We cannot trust in both "God" and "mammon," as Jesus, that very real historical figure, plainly warned us ...

  4. Hang on: do you have an example of insurance companies using "act of God" as a defense against paying a claim? As you say, it seems acts of God are exactly what folks get insurance for... like event insurance that you buy if you are organizing a concert and want to be able to cover your expenses in case the show is canceled by a blizzard or earthquake. Usually "act of God" is a defense against a lawsuits between parties to a contract -- e.g., I can't sue my landlord when a tornado wrecks my otherwise well-built apartment.

  5. Stan -

    You asked where an insurance company draws the line on an "act of god" exclusion.

    From my days handling property insurance complaints at the SD Division of Insurance, aside from not remembering the clause being spelled out in that manner, the answer is "it depends." And what it depends on is the contract of insurance, and whether it's a named peril, or open peril insurance policy.

    As you can find out there on the Internet "The difference with a named peril policy is you only have coverage for losses that are specifically listed (named) in the policy, however, with an open peril policy you are covered for all types of losses unless they are specifically excluded in the policy. Open Peril is the broadest type of homeowner’s policy available."

    Named peril can be bare boned (6 perils), or can be extended named peril(17 perils total, including falling objects, for one).

    Open peril is just that, and covers almost everything except that which is excluded. Typically that means it only excludes Flood, Earthquake, War, Nuclear Accident, and Mold.

    And if you have to have coverage for those items, in some cases they can be purchased.

    I'd never have a homeowner's policy for anything other than open peril, myself. It's worth the extra money.

  6. I want to take issue with Stan here on his position that atheism is a "religion." I always enjoy Stan's comments because they are in general personally and thoughtfully wrought, but in this instance, I think he's picked up on an absurd meme that's been circulating and fermenting in the conservative camp for some time and, to me at least, has worn out its welcome.

    It's the kind of Orwellian doublespeak that I think is best for us all to avoid if for no other reason than it renders conversation of a religious nature meaningless.

    I submit that "atheism" is no more a form of "religion" than "abstinence" is a form of "having sex," or that being "alive" is a form of being "dead," and challenge Stan (or anyone else) to reasonably and sensibly argue otherwise.

    Recall here, before you start, Stan, that I have "faith" that metaphors (such as letterforms, words and phrases) actually "mean" something. Does that, in your view, signify that I then somehow belong to the "religion of metaphor?"

    Do you see the absurdity now?

  7. Seems crazy but I'm with my friend Bill on this one, boys.

  8. The online dictionary I use defines "religion" in two ways. Basically, it's a belief in a divine power according to either definition.

    That's the last time I'll call atheism a religion! Thanks for setting me straight on this one.

    As for homeowner's insurance, I'd better check my policy. This is the first time I've ever encountered the term "open peril."

    I have learned two useful lessons here. That's why I often skirt the bounds of reason in my comments; when people challenge me, I learn things.

    I prefer my eggs hard-boiled, incidentally. They fall off my face fastest in that form.

  9. Thank you, Stan. As always, I enjoy what you write. Keep it comin', eggs and all. (p.s. mine typically end up scrambled, no matter how hard I try to prepare them them otherwise ;^)

  10. Bill is right and wrong depending on context.

    The word religion in its narrowest sense is just as Bill describes it: A Belief system which incorporates the concept of a super natural Supreme Creator.

    In its most common sense, it includes philosophies/value systems in which one follows a line of thought which may or may not include a supernatural being or afterlife. Certain sects of Buddhism and even Judaism do not believe in an afterlife.

    In its broadest sense (and as used by the Supreme Court), it includes a belief systems that go down to individual belief systems including atheism.

  11. Origin:
    1150–1200; ME religioun (< OF religion ) < L religiōn- (s. of religiō ) conscientiousness, piety, equiv. to relig ( āre ) to tie, fasten ( re- re- + ligāre to bind, tie; cf. ligament) + -iōn- -ion; cf. rely

    Atheist, agnostic, infidel, skeptic refer to persons not inclined toward religious belief or a particular form of religious belief.

    An atheist is one who denies the existence of a deity or of divine beings. ip doesn't know how to do that with certainty.

    An agnostic is one who believes it impossible to know anything about God or about the creation of the universe and refrains from commitment to any religious doctrine.

    Infidel means an unbeliever, especially a nonbeliever in Islam or Christianity.

    A skeptic doubts and is critical of all accepted doctrines and creeds.

    Stan, don't yield. I believe atheism is a religion, too.

  12. Stan, stick with yielding. I'm liking Bill's abstinence comparison. My atheism is no more a religion than my faith in the logical proof that π's decimal expansion neither repeats nor terminates.

  13. Good stuff! My mind loves nothing better than to spar with itself!

    I suspect that this whole business lies somewhere in the same philosophical ball park with the question, "Is Pluto a planet, or not?"

    One of my favorite philosophers and mystics, the guy they called "Osho," talks of true religiousness as a spiritual state of mind that differs entirely from formal, doctrinaire, organized religions such as Christianity or Judaism or Islam.

    Can we call atheism a "doctrine"?

    Interestingly, "Osho" stated a determined belief that no "God" exists. He offered a "proof" that I found flawed. I forget exactly how his "proof" went, but I think he defined "God" as Cory did earlier in this thread.

    I find it a bit insulting to both "God" and humanity (and silly as well) when I see "In God We Trust" on a coin, or a reference to an "act of God" in an insurance contract.

  14. Stan, in casual conversation, I wouldn't get bent out of shape over doctrine. I will accept doctrine if used as a straight, simple synonym for belief. However, if we get really picky, I notice a tendency in definitions of doctrine to include words like system, body, official, authoritative. I would not apply those terms to atheism as I use it. Atheism is not necessarily a system of beliefs; it is a single belief. One might construct various doctrines—i.e., systems of belief—around that single belief. Atheism also does not have any official or authoritative interpretation. Atheists have no notable authorities to proclaim what our disbelief (our infidelity?) means or requires of us. Doctrine may thus be an imperfect term for atheism, depending on how you use it.

    Insult? I take less umbrage at the "act of God" clauses than at "In God We Trust"... but I'm getting better at letting both roll off my back. The former appears more a product of casual or sloppy language with little exclusive intent. I suspect if a small minority of atheist policyholders raised heck, profit-conscious insurers would find a suitable, religion-neutral synonym without much despair. The latter motto is much more often a point of political manipulation and pious posturing, kind of like the rebellious defiance I hear when high schoolers fight to get a Christian prayer into a public school ceremony. "In God We Trust" carries a more exclusive message, reinforcing the idea that we are a nation of, by, and for Christians.

    I wonder if Ayn Rand ever commented on our religous national slogan.

  15. Well I love you Troy, as you know, but I would fervently disagree with the SCOTUS position that a "religion" has anything to do with any one individual's personal belief system.

    Paradoxically perhaps, that seems far too broad and sweeping of a definition of the word, precisely because it is far too narrow and specific.

    I'm of the mind that a "religion" has to have at least two adherents to whatever was being "believed." Seems like even Jesus would agree on that.

    Moreover, I think "religions" are also "institutions" that have shared ritual, dogma, physical and human infrastructure, influence, an economy, etc.

    Again, paradoxically perhaps, if we were to accept the SCOTUS's definition of religion, we would have to include the US Constitutional experiment itself, don't you think?


    Cory, there are all kinds of "athiests" just as there are all kinds of "religions" who, at least in theory, believe in the same "God" (i.e. the God of Abraham... although, they don't seem to agree what his name is, or even if it should ever be pronounced or written down.)

    I'm guessing Rand may have actually agreed with the statement "in God We Trust," especially if she were as liberal in defining the term as some of her fellow "righties" tend to be.

    She was not above practicing a little Orwellian doublespeak in her day either, don't you know?


  16. Some insights into the type of "God" Ayn Rand would "Trust":



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